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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


Panama: Free Trade with Tax Haven

May 19, 2009

3P-026 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 26th episode of Third Paradigm, which marks our half-year anniversary. This week we'll talk about the pending Panama Free Trade Agreement. But I'd like to start by continuing the line of inquiry started last week when we asked whether the US Constitution was an act of treason. In that episode we looked at the underhanded way in which the Constitution was drafted at a convention on trade and legal tender, to which commercial delegates, not Congressional delegates, had been sent. We looked at the 20-year reprieve that the Constitution gave slavery, and the slave tax and additional slaveholder representation it authorized that kept slavery going 30 years beyond the date it promised to phase it out.

I just read an article that derided Thomas Jefferson for considering blacks only 3/5ths human. I'm no fan of Jefferson, but in terms of representation in Congress, it would have been better if they'd been considered not human at all. For each nonvoting male slave to count as 3/5th of a freeman meant that an owner of 1000 slaves carried the political weight of 601 abolitionists. Likewise, the tax on slaves wasn't a compromise, or a step in the direction of abolition. It made the new government complicit and dependent on a revenue stream for something that should have been illegal. Once the money was accepted, slavery was legitimized and abolition took money away that Congress depended on.

The 20-year reprieve, where slaveholders agreed to voluntarily phase out slavery by 1808 is much like the Harkins-Engel protocol today. In 2001, due to media exposes about child slaves on cocoa plantations, legislation was introduced by Senators Harkins and Engel to force chocolate products to be certified and labeled slave free. To avoid this, the chocolate industry negotiated to phase out child slavery voluntarily by 2005. 2005 came and went with no real change, just as the Constitution's 1808 deadline slipped by without a murmur. High tech pulled the same trick again when a 2001 UN report showed that coltan, found in every cell phone and laptop, was funding the atrocities in the Congo. First, they sponsored so-called "independent" journalists who share the public's outrage. Then they said, "Now that we know, it's certain that this won't continue." And then it does. If you'd like my research on the coltan issue, drop me a note.

But before we post the sovereignty news, we'll read a poem. This is What's Left by Kerrie Hardie, and dedicated to Peter Hennessy. The music that follows it is Snow Patrol with Hands Open.

What's Left

I used to wait for the flowers,
my pleasure reposed on them.
Now I like plants before they get to the blossom.
Leafy ones – foxgloves, comfrey, delphiniums –
fleshy tiers of strong leaves pushing up
into air grown daily lighter and more sheened
with bright dust like the eyeshadow
that tall young woman in the bookshop wears,
its shimmer and crumble on her white lids.
The washing sways on the line, the sparrows pull
at the heaps of drying weeds that I've left around.
Perhaps this is middle age.  Untidy, unfinished,
knowing there'll never be time now to finish,
liking the plants – their strong lives –
not caring about flowers, sitting in weeds
to write things down, look at things,
watching the sway of shirts on the line,
the cloth filtering light. 

I know more or less
how to live through my life now.
But I want to know how to live what's left
with my eyes open and my hands open;
I want to stand at the door in the rain
listening, sniffing, gaping.
Fearful and joyous,
like an idiot before God.

~ Kerrie Hardie ~
From Cry for the Hot Belly

* * * * * * *

[Snow Patrol – Hands Open]

That was Snow Patrol, who does our theme song Take Back the City. This one is called Hands Open from the CD Eyes Open. Although it's romantic, it's also politically true – it's not as easy as willing it all to be right. Today, on Mother's Day at San Lorenzo Park, is an exhibit of 455 empty pairs of combat boots, called Eyes Wide Open. They're tagged with the names of the California soldiers who've died in the Iraq war, along with a visual representation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who've died in the invasion. It's co-sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and the Resource Center for Nonviolence. I saw this exhibition when it was in Washington, D.C. and it's very powerful. Given Julia Ward Howe's intent for Mother's Day, I thought there was no more fitting activity that I could ask my family to do.

I'd like to now play a reading of Julia Ward Howe's proclamation:

[ – Mother's Day for Peace]

Arise then... women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!

Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God - In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Most well-known for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, she was married to a hero of the Greek revolution, was a member of the Unitarian Church and the Free Soil Party, who were abolitionists. Walt Whitman was another Free Soiler. Now for the sovereignty news:

This month, Obama met his first test of where the rhetoric meets the road – the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. The eagle's landing didn't bode well for equality – five heads of state, including Canada's prime minister, were forced to wait up to three hours before deplaning while security cleared the tarmac for Obama. Apparently, you just can't trust anyone these days.

Besides the controversial handshake, Chavez presented Obama with a book, The Open Veins of Latin America. Prior to the Summit, Venezuela had hosted the Bolivarian Alternative for Our Americas (ALBA). Other members of ALBA are Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. In a document called the Declaration of Cumana, they rejected the official draft for the Summit of the Americas on the grounds that it provided no answers to the global economic crisis and that it unfairly excluded Cuba. They announced their intent to hold a thorough debate on capitalism as leading humanity and the planet to extinction. They're developing a system among themselves that intends to recover the human condition of societies and peoples and doesn't reduce them to mere consumers or merchandise. In a succinct manner, they gave a clear-sighted view of US interventionist policies and its results. They state their hope that Obama will change this destructive path, but make it clear that they're not holding their breath. The Declaration of Cumana is an important position statement that everyone should google and read, whether out of interest in Latin America or for a glimpse of our own future. They quote the Liberator, Simón Bolívar in saying,

Unity of our peoples is not a mere illusion
of men, but an inexorable decree of destiny.

— Let's hope the US gets on the right side of destiny by then.

It is, however, unlikely that Brand Obama will lead us there. Sorry, Obamafans. On Truthdig, Chris Hedges lists the ways in which Brand Obama is a feel-good perception without substantive change from the last Presidential product. As soon as the Americas Summit was over, his aides signaled that he wouldn't seek to renegotiate NAFTA, and that China shouldn't be labeled a currency manipulator in keeping the yuan artificially low to keep exports high. These are both reversals of statements Obama made on the campaign trail. The day of his return, he signaled an openness to Free Trade Agreements with Panama and Colombia which are fiercely opposed by the ALBA countries and all indigenous and peasant communities. At the summit he never mentioned it. You can practically hear the pedastal cracking. Trade activists thought they just had to delay the Free Trade Agreement's through Bush's last days as a lame duck. Well there's a new duck in the house, but just as lame. He may try to push the trade deal through before the May 22nd recess of Congress.

What's so bad about the Panama Free Trade Agreement? Let's hear from the Panamanian Sovereignty Front:

[It] "would permit the United States access to the internal market of Panama. In exchange the U.S. does not offer any opening for Panamanian goods or services to gain access to their market...the people would have to assume the burden of higher prices for health care ... education, social security, transportation and food. ... Panamanian farmers would lose their access to the national market and would have to abandon their land. The Panamanian market would be inundated with U.S. farm products that are in surplus in that country. Our country would be totally abandoning its policy of food security and we would not be consuming our own rice, beef and other products."

So maybe it's news to you that the US has a food surplus. I just heard that 3.5 million US children may be developmentally stunted due to hunger in the next few years. Food pantries have strict rationing due to unprecedented demand. Why are we so eager to ship food to Panama? We're not only eager, we're paying twice to do it. First, we pay farm subsidies to the agrobusiness giants who grow five staple crops – wheat, corn, rice, soy, and cotton. Then, under the auspices of USAID, we pay the shipping cartels to send it to third world countries where it's sold at under the cost of production, as a charitable act. Agrobusinesses get paid again, which they can use to buy up the farmer's land cheap after they can't compete and are driven out of business. We'll return with the other reasons a Panama Free Trade Agreement hurts us and really, really hurts them, but in the meantime, Brett Dennen says it best, It's Enough To Make You Go Crazy!

[Brett Dennen – Make You Crazy]

That was Brett Dennen with Make You Crazy from his Hope for the Hopeless CD. I played that track on my trial show and it was a contender for the theme song. But someone tripped over the wire and lost the recording, so Take Back the City won by a nose.

Getting back to what drives us crazy, if I had one piece of advice for young activists, it would be to study two things: where the money goes and trade agreements. I know it doesn't sound as sexy as strip-mines and torture memos, but this is where it all starts – the first domino. Once the paper's signed and in place, every other domino is on the defensive, requiring a huge mobilization to keep it from falling. There's a coalition out of Washington, D.C. called the Alliance for Responsible Trade, run by Tom Louden of the Quixote Center. Their monthly conference calls include the American Friends Service Committee, Public Citizen Global Trade Watch, the Institute for Policy Studies, the International Labor Rights Forum, Common Frontiers of Canada, and many more. I make myself useful by taking the notes on these calls, because I can't believe how much one small committee is holding together. I've compared Tom to the legendary Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, keeping the river of unfettered capitalism from washing us all away.

If you were to pay attention to trade and where the money goes, Panama's a lesson in both. It's one of eight leading tax havens in the world and was voted the best place to launder drug money in the Americas. As corporate executives siphon off our tax money for generations to come, what are they doing with the untaxed money they make on free trade? In an op-ed posted on The Hill, Representative Mike Michaud highlighted how "Panama's ... industrial policy is premised on obtaining a comparative advantage by banning taxation of foreign corporations, hiding tax liabilities and transactions behind banking secrecy rules and the ease with which U.S. and other firms can create unregulated subsidiaries."

The Office of Management and Budget estimates that eliminating offshore loopholes could save U.S. taxpayers $210 billion over the coming decade, while the Senate Homeland Security Committee estimates a savings five times as great.

In developing countries, the impact of tax evasion and avoidance is more severe. 

Global Financial Integrity estimates that $850 billion to $1 trillion a year is illegally shifted out of developing countries into western economies.  According to the World Bank, 60 percent of illicit cash flows from developing countries are through commercial tax evasion. A 2008 Christian Aid report asserts that because revenues lost to havens could be used for healthcare and education, nearly 1,000 children in the developing world die each day as a result of trade-related tax evasion.

"But the toll on the world's poor may be even more severe. "Tax havens have a bigger impact on developing countries than on developed countries," Jeffrey Owens, director of the Centre for Tax Policy Administration at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), recently told Reuters, claiming that tax drainage to havens was equal to 7 or 8 percent of the gross domestic product of the African continent. A 2008 Christian Aid report put it in even starker terms, claiming that because revenues that could be used for healthcare and education are lost to havens, nearly 1,000 children in the developing world die each day as a result of trade-related tax evasion."

But the most damning projections of the Panama agreement is on the US International Trade Commission's own website. It says that the positive potential for the US will be negligible, but import competition will likely lower their domestic beef, pork, rice, and grain production, shifting farmers to alternative crops and increasing imports. This is the same model that's created the global food crisis in the rest of Latin America. US corporations can invade the financial sector, bid on expansion contracts for the Panama Canal, and can't be "discriminated" against by preferring Panamanians. It includes intellectual property rights, prevents generic drugs from being produced, and creates a "stable" environment for investors by giving them the right of expropriation – they can sue in international court for lost profits due to new labor or environmental laws. Either the trade commission doesn't expect anyone to actually read these agreements, or they're utterly shameless. Maybe both. This is the same law under NAFTA allowing Dow Chemical to sue Quebec for banning pesticide use on lawns. If you doubt this, try banning lawn pesticides in your county and see what happens.

If you'd like to make a real difference in the wholesale free trade rape and pillage that we're funding, only to have the spoils squirreled away tax-free, call your Representative. If that's Sam Farr, ask for his foreign policy aide, Mark Hanson. You might ask him how that Peru Free Trade Agreement worked out that I warned him about. I also talk about it in my episode, Third Generation Lap Cats.

This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for production and editing. Special thanks to Pete Bianco, host of The Wringer, who sometimes plays my show after his at WHCL Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. He also does a 75-person CSA with 100 varieties of veggies. And thanks to Dana Feldman and Carolyn Israel for their thoughtful responses to Free Radio Santa Cruz issues. I also want to appreciate Duane Eareckson's kind and perceptive email about my Biblical research, picking up on a connection to the Joe Atwill book, Caesar's Messiah. We'll be elaborating on that in a future episode. Our last song is about Gaza. It's been a particularly brutal week in Palestine. But it could also be about Iraq, Afghanistan, the women of the Congo, or the peasant farmers of Latin America. This is Michael Heart with We Will Not Go Down.

[Michael Heart – We Will Not Go Down (Song For Gaza)]

Thanks for listening.